Jar with lug handles

4th c. BCEalabaster3 3/8 in. (8.57 cm.)

Gift of Miss Susan Dwight Bliss


Like the ovoid jar from the Bliss collection, the form of this vessel mirrors similar clay jars from Pre-Dynastic Egypt (4000–3000 BCE). The lug handles allowed the vessels to be hung with cords, further securing their precious contents of ointments and salves. The artisan who crafted this vessel made inventive use of the alabaster material’s sedimentary nature, using the natural striations in the stone to create a pattern of concentric circles on either face of the jar. This deliberate and unusual choice reflects the high degree of development in Egyptian stonework even before the era of the pyramids.

This vessel is one of a group of stone vessels donated to the Museum by Susan Dwight Bliss (1882–1966). Bliss was the sole heir of the magnificent Manhattan mansion belonging to her parents, wealthy financier George T. and Jeanette Dwight Bliss. During the Gilded Age, the couple (especially Jeanette) were avid American antiquarians. They collected Mediterranean antiquities and European art, amassed a sizable library, and even installed a series of historic interiors in their uptown mansion. 

Egyptian antiquity captivated the public imagination on either side of the Atlantic since Napoleon’s campaigns in the region (1798–1801). Large contingents of scientists and scholars accompanied Napoleon’s campaigns, studying the cultures, languages, and histories of the region and excavating many ancient Egyptian sites. Their discoveries, which included the Rosetta stone, were published in lavishly illustrated volumes. Excavations of Egyptian tombs increased throughout the nineteenth century in the wake of this campaign. Among the later excavations, perhaps most famous was the discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb by the English archaeologist Howard Carter in 1922. Tomb contents regularly found their way into the hands of Western collectors and museums, either as part of legitimate partage agreements or through looting and the antiquities market.

—Sean P. Burrus


Before 1963, Bliss family collection; 1963, gifted to the Bowdoin College Museum of Art by Susan Dwight Bliss

Susan Dwight Bliss

Sole heir to wealthy financier George T. (1816–1901) and Jeanette Dwight Bliss (1852–1924), Susan Dwight Bliss was a New York collector and philanthropist. She inherited a sizeable collection of ancient Mediterranean and historic European art from her parents, prominent collectors of the Gilded Age, and continued to collect rare books, manuscripts, and historic art and artifacts herself. 

Region: Egypt See all 12
Map of Mediterranean Sea with Egypt highlighted.